Farming co-operative Cornwall Farmers has announced a £2.3m investment designed to grow its customer base and increase returns to its 4,200 members.
After three to four challenging financial years where the co-operative had to suspend dividend payments, Cornwall Farmers hopes the investment will drive growth by drawing in more rural non-farming customers.
Simon Birch, chief executive of Cornwall Farmers said farming customers would remain at the core of the business, but that they wanted to “beef up the whole offer”, with new products and services across both agricultural and rural categories.
Mr Birch said the benefit to farming members would be two-fold. “As customers they will experience an improvement in products, with a better service. As investors they will experience a better return on investment as the model starts to bear fruit”.
About £300,000-£400,000 of the investment will be spent on staff training, including creating a specialist agri-team in store, who will offer advice on farming products. Farming customers will also benefit from dedicated farm business checkouts to make the service “quicker and slicker”, said Mr Birch.
The co-operative turns over £40m a year, about 80% of which comes from agricultural sales, and about 20% from other rural categories, including equine, pet supplies and country clothing. The growth plan aims to expand both agricultural and rural sales, but to broaden its appeal to the non-farming rural community, so that sales will be split at about 65% agricultural and 35% rural respectively.
Cornwall farmers has 12 stores across Devon and Cornwall, 200 employees and is more than 90 years old. The investment is being supported by £920,000 from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership’s Business Catalyst Fund, which is funded by the government’s Regional Growth Fund.